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Voting procedure up for debate

Town meeting vs. poll voting on warrant

The towns of Mason and Temple and the Mason School District are all facing the question of Town Meeting vs. the polls, as petition warrant articles seek to change the system by which voters vote on the yearly warrant.

Mason School District has used a SB2 format of voting since it became a separate district from the Mascenic Regional School District in 2010. SB2, short for Senate Bill 2, allows residents to vote on warrant articles, including the school budget, at the same time they submit their votes for school and town officials during ballot voting in March. Prior to voting, residents are called to participate in a deliberative session, where voters can amend articles as they see fit.

A petition article this year seeks to implement a District Meeting format, where voters can amend articles on the floor and vote on them immediately.

In two local towns, Mason and Temple, petition articles seek the reverse decision, asking to move from Town Meeting to SB2. In all three cases, a three-fifths vote is called for to change the voting format. This is not the first time either town has discussed this issue — last year, identical petitions ultimately failed at the polls.

Last year, the Mason School District voted 116-194 against rescinding SB2. A petition article to move from Town Meeting to SB2 also failed to gain even a majority vote in Temple, where 178 residents voted to implement SB2, while 213 were in favor of keeping the Town Meeting status-quo. In the town of Mason, things were closer, with the article gaining a majority with 177 yes votes and 139 no votes, which is only 13 votes fewer than the 190 votes that would have been needed for a three-fifths majority.

And for Mason and Temple, the Town Meeting vs. SB2 debate has been a long issue. Mason has had the issue on the ballot several times in the past, usually with the majority favoring SB2, but never gaining enough traction to quite make it to the three-fifths line. In 2011, 255 voters voted yes for SB2, while 185 voted no, nine votes short of passing. In 2010, it fell only six votes short with 303 yeses and 211 nos, and in 2009, it failed by only two votes with 219 voting yes and 149 no.

It’s also been a popular petition warrant in Temple, having been on the ballot at least 10 times, but in that case, the majority usually favors sticking with Town Meeting.

Mason Select Board Chair Charlie Moser said he would bow to the will of the people, but personally was strongly in favor of maintaining Town Meeting. “On a personal level, I believe we would be giving up an ancient and important democratic tradition of voting, and being able to influence each other’s votes by explaining our positions just before the vote is taken,” he said.

A public hearing will be held on the petition in Mason and in Temple tonight at 7 p.m. in the Mann House in Mason and the Town Hall in Temple.

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